News and events revolving around the ousting of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005 | Cheney on trial

Even if the vice president himself is not indicted, imagine the questions he might be asked, under oath, in Libby's case.
By Sidney Blumenthal

Nov. 10, 2005 | The trial of Scooter Libby will also be the trial of Dick Cheney. Throughout his long public career in four Republican administrations, starting as an aide in the Nixon White House, Cheney has operated in the background and through back channels. But eventually the vice president will be called to the stand, perhaps as a witness for both the prosecution and the defense.

Cheney may request a sealed courtroom, ask for a redacted transcript of the proceedings or assert executive privilege. But established legal precedent argues against a claim of executive privilege. The only basis on which he could refuse to testify would be to take the Fifth Amendment, protecting himself against self-incrimination. Of course, that would be political suicide because it would be perceived as a virtual admission of guilt. Indeed, Cheney has already waived that Fifth Amendment right, having submitted to an interview with special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. And his testimony in the Libby trial opens a perjury trap if he contradicts anything he has previously said to the prosecutor.

In the trial, the prosecutor will attempt to penetrate Libby's coverup, his obstruction of justice, which Fitzgerald has analogized to throwing dirt in the eyes of an umpire. He will call a slew of White House aides, including a number of Cheney's, to break through Libby's bodyguard of lies. The truth about Cheney is to be found beyond the coverup.

Since his indictment on five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice, Libby the loyalist, Cheney's Cheney, has moved swiftly to disabuse anyone of the notion that he will fall on his sword. The surest way for him to protect Cheney would have been to plead guilty to the charges, admit nothing and go directly to jail. But Libby passed up his chance to plead in negotiations with the prosecutor before the indictment. He has hired a team of lawyers from three different firms who are making preparations for an aggressive defense. He has also begun raising money for his legal defense from Republican Party donors whose names will be kept secret. To coordinate this fund and his public relations, he has hired Barbara Comstock, a longtime Republican Party operative and former communications director for Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Libby is not a man in a hurry. His first legal maneuver was to waive his rights under the Speedy Trial Act, which requires a trial within 120 days. The presiding federal judge, Reggie Walton of the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, has not scheduled a status hearing until February 2006. This interregnum means that the trial might not take place until the spring or even the fall, rising to a rolling boil close to the midterm elections and even beyond.

From the beginning, the White House has acted as though the Plame affair were a minor irritation that could be contained. Libby's elaborate stories to the grand jury of how he was told Valerie Plame Wilson's identity as a covert CIA operative by journalists suggested supreme confidence that the journalists would not disclose their conversations with him. But only Judith Miller acted to shield him as a "source"; she was sentenced to prison for 85 days before she agreed to testify. The others cited in the indictment, Matthew Cooper of Time magazine and Tim Russert of NBC News, had earlier undercut Libby's various accounts.

President Bush's insistence that he wanted to get to the bottom of the incident and that he would fire anyone involved in the leak was followed by studied inactivity. When the prosecutor revealed Libby and Rove as culpable for the leak, Bush made no gesture to fulfill his pledge. The Libby indictment, moreover, states that Libby learned of Plame's job from Cheney, though Cheney had publicly denied any knowledge or involvement. Yet Bush has taken no action and made no statement about his vice president's alleged deception.

Fitzgerald declared in his Oct. 28 press conference announcing the Libby indictment that he was "not done." Regardless of whether there are future indictments of Bush administration officials, the Libby trial itself will be a spectacle subjecting Republican candidates to vulnerability during the campaign season. A new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press shows that 79 percent believe that Libby's indictment is a matter of national importance. Cheney's legal exposure is also the Republicans' political exposure.

The prosecutor's cross-examination of Cheney need not be limited to the bits of information about him that are sprinkled in the Libby indictment. Cheney cannot expect that he knows what the prosecutor has learned. He cannot, therefore, fully anticipate what he will be asked. He might be presented with surprises that test his veracity and challenge his poise. Fitzgerald may also have testimony that contradicts what Cheney might say on the stand, and may not necessarily reveal it to him.

Certainly, Cheney should expect to answer a series of questions similar to these: Mr. Vice President, you shared with Mr. Libby the information that Valerie Plame was a CIA employee, didn't you? You believed that revealing Plame's supposed involvement in her husband Joseph Wilson's mission to Africa would discredit him, isn't that true? What was your reaction when you learned of Robert Novak's column divulging the identity of Valerie Plame? You spoke to people about Mr. Novak's column after it appeared, didn't you? Please name them and describe those conversations.

Did you know the identity of the two senior administration sources cited in his column after you read it? If not, what efforts did you make to determine the identities of these individuals? When White House press secretary Scott McClellan told the press corps in a briefing that neither Karl Rove nor Scooter Libby was involved in leaking Plame's identity, you knew that was false, but you never took any steps to inform McClellan or, more importantly, the president and the American people, did you?

What conversations did you have with Karl Rove or others on the White House staff about Joseph Wilson or Valerie Plame? You were present at meetings discussing Wilson's objections to the false Niger claims, weren't you? Did you discuss Plame with the president? What other critics of the administration did you ever discuss in meetings? Who else was present? Please tell us about those conversations. What conversations did you have about Valerie Plame or Joseph Wilson with the president?

Mr. Vice President, you knew from talking to Mr. Libby that he didn't obtain the information about Plame's identity from the press, didn't you? You knew Mr. Libby spoke with Tim Russert, Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper, isn't that true? And you knew that he provided information about Plame to them, not them to him, didn't you? You were his source, not them, isn't that true?

Mr. Vice President, you are under oath.

-- By Sidney Blumenthal

Ethics Class Is in Session Again at White House - Los Angeles Times

In alphabetical order, staffers, Rove included, begin refresher courses after the indictment of Libby. Bush and Cheney are excused.
By Johanna Neuman
Times Staff Writer

November 9, 2005

WASHINGTON — Hundreds of White House employees, selected in alphabetical order, filed into Room 450 of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Tuesday to begin ethics refresher courses on how to handle classified information.

With the CIA leak investigation contributing to a drop in his approval ratings, President Bush ordered the hourlong briefings by White House Ethics Officer Richard Painter to be conducted over the next two weeks.

Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, said the briefings were mandatory for all 3,000 people who work in White House offices and agencies, except for the two men who hired the staff: Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Tuesday's audience included staffers whose last names began with the early letters of the alphabet, including White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, the president's top political advisor, is expected to attend class today.

Bush decided to order the refresher courses, a redo of the classes that every White House employee takes on arrival, after the indictment Oct. 28 of Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements to investigators and a grand jury looking into who leaked the name of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame to the media.

Libby was not charged directly with violating any laws in revealing Plame's identity, but the indictment forced him to resign.

The indictment also asserted that an unnamed "Official A," who sources have said is Rove, told Libby that he had spoken about the CIA officer with syndicated columnist Robert Novak before Novak's July 14, 2003, column, which included the first public mention of Plame's name and CIA affiliation. Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald is considering whether to charge Rove in connection with the case.

Some Democrats have urged the White House to revoke Rove's security clearance. McClellan said Tuesday that Rove was "continuing to perform his duties…. We appreciate all that he's doing."

The ethics briefings, McClellan said, include "a discussion about classified information and the proper handling of classified national security information, how that material is classified, by whom, for how long, who has access to it, how the material is declassified, the badges that people wear to show their security clearances, and so forth."

"The briefings discuss the security precautions that are in place for handling classified information, such as the use of safes or the use of specific locations to view classified information, like the Situation Room here at the White House," he said.

Eight briefings were planned this week — for Tuesday, today and Thursday — for staffers with security clearances. Those without clearances were to attend classes next week.

Among the agencies whose staff are required to attend are the Office of Management and Budget and the Council on Environmental Quality.

Bush decided to order the refresher courses when he conferred with Card and White House Counsel Harriet E. Miers at Camp David after the Libby indictment became public.

"The president thought it was important to have these refresher briefings for all White House staff in light of recent circumstances," McClellan said.

"The president takes the issue of the handling of classified information very seriously."

Asked about the ethics classes, former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta said: "It's more a signal to the outside world. It's their way of saying they're paying attention."

Panetta, who was chief of staff during Clinton's first term and now runs the nonpartisan Panetta Institute in Monterey, said Bush's recent problems echoed the pattern of many second-term presidents.

"People tend to be more arrogant, more stubborn, more isolated in the second term, and he's paying the price," Panetta said. "I would advise some kind of shake-up. You have to bring in new blood, new credibility."

Times and Reporter Reach Agreement on Her Departure - New York Times

The New York Times and Judith Miller, a veteran reporter for the paper, reached an agreement today that ends her 28-year career at the newspaper and caps more than two weeks of negotiations.

Ms. Miller went to jail this summer rather than reveal a confidential source in the C.I.A. leak case. But her release from jail 85 days later and persistent questions about her actions roiled long-simmering concerns about her in the newsroom.

"We are grateful to Judy for her significant personal sacrifice to defend an important journalistic principle," said Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The New York Times. "I respect her decision to retire from The Times and wish her well."

In a memo sent the Times staff at 3:30 p.m. today, Bill Keller, the executive editor, wrote, "In her 28 years at The Times, Judy participated in some great prize winning journalism."

Ms. Miller could not be reached for comment.

Lawyers for Ms. Miller and the paper negotiated a severance package whose details they would not disclose. Under the agreement, Ms. Miller will retire from the newspaper, and The Times will print a letter she wrote to the editor explaining her position. Ms. Miller originally demanded that she be able to write an essay for the paper's Op-Ed page refuting the allegations against her. The Times refused that demand - Gail Collins, editor of the editorial page, said, "We don't use the Op-Ed page for back and forth between one part of the paper and another" - but agreed to let her write the letter.

In that letter, to be published in The New York Times on Thursday under the heading, "Judith Miller's Farewell," Ms. Miller said she was leaving partly because some of her colleagues disagreed with her decision to testify in the C.I.A. leak case.

"But mainly," she wrote, "I have chosen to resign because over the last few months, I have become the news, something a New York Times reporter never wants to be."

She noted that even before going to jail, she had "become a lightning rod for public fury over the intelligence failures that helped lead our country to war." She said she regretted "that I was not permitted to pursue answers" to questions about those intelligence failures.

As part of the settlement, Mr. Keller made public a personal letter that he wrote to Ms. Miller regarding a memo he sent to the staff on Oct. 21. In that memo, he spoke of his regrets in dealing slowly with problems surrounding Ms. Miller.

In his letter to her, Mr. Keller acknowledged that Ms. Miller had been upset with him over his use of the words "entanglement" and "engagement" in reference to her relationship with I. Lewis Libby Jr., her source and the former chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney.

"Those words were not intended to suggest an improper relationship," Mr. Keller wrote.

Secondly, he noted that she took issue with his assertion that "Judy seems to have misled" Phil Taubman, the Washington bureau chief, when Mr. Taubman asked her whether she had been on the receiving end of an orchestrated White House campaign.

"I continue to be troubled by that episode," Mr. Keller wrote. "But you are right that Phil himself does not contend that you misled him; and, of course, I was not a participant in the conversation between you and Phil."

Ms. Miller wrote in her letter that she was gratified that Mr. Keller "has finally clarified remarks made by him that were unsupported by fact and personally distressing."

She added, referring to Mr. Keller: "Some of his comments suggested insubordination on my part. I have always written the articles assigned to me, adhered to the paper's sourcing and ethical guidelines and cooperated with editorial decisions, even those with which I disagreed."

She thanked "colleagues who stood by me after I was criticized on these pages."

Ms. Miller, 57, leaves the paper after serving for many years as one of its most distinguished investigative and national security correspondents. She has written four books and in 2002 was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize for explanatory journalism for reporting, prior to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, about the growing threat of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

But her reporting came under criticism with her subsequent reports suggesting that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, coverage that helped the Bush administration build its case for invading Iraq but that turned out to be wrong.

Ms. Miller was released from jail Sept. 29 after being locked up longer than any reporter in American history for refusing to testify and reveal her sources in the leak case. The case became perhaps the most significant to test press freedoms against government demands for secrecy since the Pentagon Papers three decades ago. And it may foreshadow an increase in subpoenas to force other reporters to testify about their confidential sources.

After asserting that she would never disclose her sources, Ms. Miller revealed that her source was Mr. Libby, who has since been indicted on five charges related to the C.I.A. leak investigation and has pleaded not guilty. Then Ms. Miller testified that she could not remember who gave her the name of a covert C.I.A. operative.

In her letter to The Times, Ms. Miller said that she agreed to testify only after Mr. Libby gave her a personal waiver to speak and after the special prosecutor agreed to limit his questioning of her to those germane to the C.I.A. case.

"Though some colleagues disagreed with my decision to testify, for me to have stayed in jail after achieving my conditions would have seemed self-aggrandizing martyrdom or worse, a deliberate effort to obstruct the prosecutor's inquiry into serious crimes," she wrote.

Bush aides can help pay Libby's legal defense bills - Yahoo! News

White House officials are free to contribute to a fund to help pay for the legal defense of Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, in the CIA leak investigation, the White House said on Wednesday.

"People, including White House staffers, can contribute as individuals to whatever causes they so choose. I know of no prohibition on individuals," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters when asked about Libby establishing a legal defense fund.

Libby was charged on October 28 with obstructing justice, perjury and lying in the two-year investigation into the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity after her husband criticized the Iraq war. Libby faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison if convicted. He has pleaded not guilty.

After Libby resigned from the White House and left the building, White House Chief of Staff Andy Card issued a memo that said "all White House staffers should not have any contact with Scooter Libby about any aspect of the investigation," McClellan said at the time.

Libby has assembled a high-priced team of lawyers to fight the charges in court, including Theodore Wells, who defended former Agriculture Secretary Michael Espy and financier Michael Milken.

Libby also hired white-collar criminal defense lawyer William Jeffress, who represented another former Cheney aide, Mary Matalin, in the leak case.

President George W. Bush has responded to Libby's indictment by requiring all staff members to attend mandatory classes in ethics and the handling of classified information.

Card and David Addington, Cheney's new chief of staff, attended sessions on Tuesday. Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, was expected to attend an ethics class Wednesday.

Rove was not indicted along with Libby, but lawyers involved in the case said Rove remained under investigation and may still be charged.

Philippine News Online: Top Rove aide ‘critical’ in CIA probe

WASHINGTON D.C. – Filipino American Susan Ralston, chief of-staff to presidential adviser Karl Rove, is one of nearly two dozen White House officials – including President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney – believed to have knowledge about the outing of Central Intelligence Agency operative agent Valerie Plame.

Ralston, Rove’s right-hand man, is scheduled to appear again before Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald who is investigating the circumstances surrounding the leak of Plame’s identity in the media.

Plame’s work in the CIA was revealed after her husband Ambassador Joseph Wilson challenged President Bush’s reasons for going to war in Iraq. Exposing an agent is a crime as it endangers the agent’s life as well as the security of his or her family.

Ralston appears to be a person of critical interest in the investigation, just like her boss Rove.

Rove is one of the officials who had spoken with journalists who had written about Plame. Another one who spoke to the press is Dick Cheney chief-of-staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was indicted for perjury. Fitzgerald said Libby lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and obstructed investigation.

As Rove’s assistant covering for him from policy pronouncements down to housekeeping issues, Ralston works very closely with George Bush’s senior adviser.

In one of the two appearances before the Special Prosecutor, she and another Rove aide, Israel Hernandez, were asked why Rove’s phone conversation with journalist Cooper was not recorded in the logbook. The response was that Cooper did not dial Rove directly but was switched to his line by the operator.

Ralston, in her usual, briskly efficient but friendly manner, apologized that she was occupied and could not speak to Philippine News for this article. Later that day, Maria Kimmery, White House media liaison officer, called on behalf of Susan and suggested that White House press spokesman Scott McClelland’s remarks at that day’s press meeting might be helpful for PN’s purpose.

The Filipino American community is keeping close tabs on the investigation. Many of them said it would be regrettable if Ralston left the White House for any reason, but especially with a whiff of scandal attached to her name.

“Susan has been helpful and very responsive to [some] concerns of the community, “ Armando “Doy” Heredia, coordinator and chief of staff of National Federation of Filipino American Associations (Naffaa), told PN. “She helped us in the capacity that she has by connecting us to the White House.”

He was referring to how Ralston had personally arranged for the White House director for domestic affairs to meet with Heredia and Naffaa president Loida Nicolas Lewis in 2004 in an effort to win the Bush administration’s support for the passage of the Filipino World War II veterans’ legislation.

“That would be a sad day for the Filipino American community if she is removed from the White House,” Ed Navarra, Naffaa Region III chairman said. “She has given the Filipinos in America visibility by being in the White House.”

Noni Abrajano, a Republican organizer and active community leader in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, recalled how gracious and friendly Ralston was when she agreed to be grand marshal at the Philippine-U.S. Friendship Parade and Festival held two years ago.

“She has given us visibility and presence at the mainstream level, and I would be sad if she would not be at the White House anymore,” he told PN. He added that he did not think that she would be found to have “done something wrong.”
“She does her job well, and I – we – are proud of her,” he added.

Maurese Oteyza Owens, one of the organizers of the Filipino American Republicans of Virginia and long-time supporter of the Filipino WW II veterans cause, however, appeared lukewarm about Ralston’s future.

“What has she done for me, or for the Filipino American community?” she asked rhetorically. Other than giving Filipinos visibility because of her being one of them and occupying a prominent position in the White House, she thinks that Ralston has not distinguished herself as one interested in the Filipino community. “She turned me off in a couple of occasions,” Owens said.

One occasion was at a Philippine American Foundation’s achievement award and dinner held at the National Press Club when the veterans, led by Patrick Ganio, waited to greet her personally and to hand her a letter of thanks for her support for the veterans cause.

Upset by an earlier misunderstanding about the timing of a White House meeting Ralston refused to greet the elderly veterans and walked away.

Stunned but philosophical, Ganio, a Purple Heart recipient from battles in Bataan and who had flown all the way from his home in Florida for the occasion, remarked gamely, “Bata pa kasi…[She’s still young…]”

But that incident also demonstrated Susan’s strength as an organized and systematic operator. Her message to the veterans was, “don’t make it difficult for us to help you; you don’t make it easy for us by causing us embarrassment.”

At 37, Ralston, a graduate of management, had worked as assistant to Jack Abramoff, a powerfully connected lobbyist, at the Preston Gates and Ellis and later at Greenberg Taurig law and lobbying firms. Story had it that Abramoff, indicted on alleged corruption charges involving, among others, former Republican majority leader Tom DeLay, had offered Ralston to Rove when the latter was looking for an efficient and trusted assistant.

Before working in the nation’s capital, she was an office administrator for a commercial and real estate firm in Chicago, Ill.

Ralston has been promoted to Special Assistant to the President and Assistant to the President Senior Adviser with an annual salary of $92,000. She is married to Troy Ralston, executive director of a graduate school of management.

Karl is an amazing person to work for. I feel very, very fortunate to be in an office where so much is happening,” Ralston told this reporter in a 2003 interview.

Rove Resurfaces, Libby's Defense Trust Set - Yahoo! News

Still under criminal investigation in the CIA leak probe, Karl Rove will be one of the leading speakers this week at the Federalist Society's annual convention, an influential group of conservative legal talent.

Rove will surface as the Thursday night banquet speaker, raising a public profile that had been reduced in the weeks following his fourth round of grand jury testimony on Oct. 14. The president's top political adviser did not accompany Bush on his just-completed trip to South America.

Rove was not indicted in the leak of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity. His former White House colleague, I. Lewis Libby, was indicted in the probe, and a defense fund is being set up for him.

A person close to the Libby camp said "a lot of friends and colleagues are coming together to help" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff. Libby is charged with perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI.

Libby Establishes a Fund to Help Pay Legal Bills - New York Times

WASHINGTON, Nov. 8 - I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, is establishing a fund to help pay for his legal defense in the C.I.A. leak case, and associates of Mr. Libby have begun soliciting money from his friends and Republican donors, lawyers and people who have been contacted about the fund said on Tuesday.

Barbara Comstock, a Republican communications strategist who has been hired to work with Mr. Libby's defense team, has pulled together a list of potential contributors and has been in touch with some of them in the last week, providing an address in Washington for sending checks, the people said.

Ms. Comstock declined to comment. Other people who have been told of the fund said that their understanding was that names of the donors would not be made public, but that some decisions about how the fund would operate had yet to be made. With Mr. Libby having left government, there is no legal requirement for any public disclosure.

Mr. Libby has put together a high-priced legal team to defend himself against five felony counts of lying to investigators and misleading a grand jury, and lawyers unconnected with the matter have estimated that the bill could run well into the millions of dollars if he goes to trial.

William J. Jeffress Jr., a prominent Washington lawyer added to the defense team last week, confirmed that fund-raising had begun.

"We're certainly establishing a legal defense fund," Mr. Jeffress said, "and we'll do everything we can to make it successful, because he's not a wealthy man."

But in establishing the fund, Mr. Libby is opening himself to questions. Legal and campaign finance specialists said he could face scrutiny about whether any financial assistance he might receive from allies of President Bush and Mr. Cheney was going to finance a defense strategy intended in part to minimize harm to the administration.

The situation could also present Mr. Libby's supporters with a tricky political problem. Many Republicans may be eager to show financial support for a man who they believe is being prosecuted for political reasons, campaign finance analysts said, yet may also be wary about the appearance of giving contributions to a man accused of a serious crime.

"The administration is walking a very tight rope here," said Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a watchdog group, "because they want to support Libby, but they don't want to be seen as strong-arming Republican supporters for money."

Mr. Libby, one of the most influential officials at the White House, resigned as Mr. Cheney's chief of staff on Oct. 28, immediately after the special counsel in the case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, announced that he had been indicted on felony charges of obstruction of justice, making false statements and perjury. Mr. Fitzgerald is investigating the leak of a C.I.A. officer's identity in July 2003.

Because he has left government, Mr. Libby has more flexibility to raise money for his defense, legal experts said. If Mr. Libby were still working at the White House, his legal defense would be limited to accepting contributions of $5,000 per donor, and he would have to disclose his donor list publicly.

Now, "he doesn't have to worry about any of that," said Stanley Brand, a Washington lawyer who specializes in ethics and political finance issues.

"But the administration has to worry that if the donors are too close to them, it will look like they're currying favor with the administration or doing their bidding," Mr. Brand said.

Democrats in Congress tried to keep up the political pressure on the White House, seeking a commitment from Mr. Bush that he would not pardon Mr. Libby.

"Although it is too early to judge Mr. Libby guilty or innocent of these particular charges, it is not too early for you to reassure the American people that you understand the enormous gravity of the allegations," Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, and three other Democrats wrote to Mr. Bush. "To this end, we urge you to pledge that if Mr. Libby or anyone else is found guilty of a crime in connection with Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation, you will not exercise your authority to issue a presidential pardon."

Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, declined to comment.